In 1963 as the mercurial Soho Modernist gave way to a newer younger Mod and a full year before Media interest and bank holiday notoriety a couple of novelty dance records highlighted the shift from gutsier Hell-bound Rhythm and Blues to a sweeter, more sanctified Soul. Both the Curtis penned Monkey Time by Major Lance and the sublime Mickey’s Monkey by The Miracles crashed into the top ten pop charts. It is perhaps no wonder the young dance obsessed crowd also took to the collegiate varsity aping (no pun intended) jacket known as the Monkey Jacket.
The origins (like much in the way of Mod) are vague and often apocryphal however it is most likely that it got its name from the short waisted naval jackets that were once baggy but were latterly elasticated at the neck, waists and cuffs which would have been considerably safer for those sailors who went by the name of ‘Rigging Monkeys’, by dint of their fearless and speedy climbing.
Another story that does the rounds is that it gave a shorter bodied look that resembled the military style jackets that so often adorned an organ grinders monkey. Military jackets and especially Dress jackets though, had been short in length for many years (and still are) and those on our primate friends were no shorter in scale.
American teen movies were popular in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Their bold block-coloured Varsity Jackets so often with its Ivy college crest and a large sewn on letter (hence the phrase Letterman jacket), would have been very sought after but nigh on impossible to get. This side of the pond ‘Harrington’ jackets; a Baracuta G9 named after the popular tv character Rodney Harrington in Peyton Place, were equally desired and they also came in an array of strong colours and a striking tartan lining but were not readily affordable; and only available at limited stockists such as John Simon’s Ivy Shop at Richmond Hill.
The French and Italian youth had a similar elasticated wind-cheater called a ‘blouson’ which would also have appealed to our young style obsessives. This was often made of a lighter satin material and was blousier and baggier than the American jackets, but again at those times would not have been so easy to come by. Mods however were nothing if not resourceful…
Our brief tale returns to a military bent. It is not improbable that these ‘monkey jackets’ were discovered, like the increasingly ubiquitous parka, in military stores. Army PT jackets, often white in colour (again a popular Mod colour) had a similar elasticated waist and cuffs but had the added attraction of bold red and blue piping. Like most Army surplus stores these items would have been much more affordable. This magpie trait of Mods is one of its finest legacies. The Mod appropriation of Sports wear from Fred Perry polo’s, cycling tops, to boxing boots, bowling shoes and Adidas training shoes defined the new street style craze so prevalent on Ready Steady Go and the lurid Bank Holiday headlines.
Naturally from this media explosion that soon followed savvy manufacturers began creating their own versions with differing colours and complementing bold piping. Peter Meaden even got a young Pete Townsend and Keith Moon sporting one in his Mod Makeover as part of the High Numbers. Its been a staple of the Mod wardrobe ever since.
“You get yours ‘cause I got mine”